California Regulates Jockeys' Use of Whip

Horse Racing Radar
Valerie Mellema
Valerie Mellema is a Staff writer for Horse Racing Radar
Tuesday, October 6, 2020

What started in England and spread to New Jersey has now made its way to California. The California Horse Racing Board passed a rule in September that immediately made it a punishable violation for jockeys to strike a horse either in a race or during training more than six times. The rule restricts the whip's position during riding and the number of consecutive occasions the whip can be used.

This development follows the recent decision by the horseracing commission in New Jersey to outlaw the riding crop's use in races. Jockeys at Monmouth Parks, the lone New Jersey track that was holding a meet at the time, primarily expressed displeasure at the ruling. They saw this as an infringement upon their ability to guide their mounts and protect themselves as well as their horses.

Thoroughbred Daily Nres recently interviewd eight of the jockeys at Monmouth. They cite concerns over competiveness but also safety. Joe Bravo believes it will remove all competiveness because they won'r be able to encourage the horses to pass each other. 

Jockey Jorge A. Vargas is concerned about safety, "This will make it a lot more difficult when you are trying to keep a horse straight. You won't have anything to make them do what you want them to do. They know that when they feel something, it means they are doing something wrong, that you are telling them they have to do it right. This will make it more dangerous. They will do stuff that you might not be able to see on a replay or watching the race live, but the jockey feels something and you have to correct them right away. It's not like you can just talk to them and make them understand."

The movement to diminish the use of whips in horse races was begun in England. The British Horseracing Authority has an elaborate set of guidelines for the whip's manufacture, how it can be explicitly used to strike a horse, and how often it can be used. Only one whip manufacturer is allowed to sell whips for use in England, which simplifies their inspection. Each whip is examined before a race to make certain it is proper: made of energy-absorbing foam around a composite spine.

In Great Britain, a horse cannot be whipped more than seven times in a flat race, that is, one without steeplechase jumps or water. In a jump race, the horse may be whipped eight times. Blows must be administered to the horse's hindquarters rather than its flanks. Stewards may review films of a race to determine whether or not a jockey used his whip more than the allotted number of times or improperly.

The new California racetrack rules, which are already in effect, carry a stiff penalty for violation. If a jockey overuses the whip, he or she may be subject to a fine of $1,000 and may receive a three-day racing suspension. Now that the new rules have gone into effect, stewards are meeting with jockeys prior to the beginning of race meets to discuss the new rules and how they'll be enforced.

The rules do allow for mitigating circumstances. Since horses will sometimes bear out or charge too closely to the rail, jockeys also use their crops to steer the horses to safety. This will be taken into consideration by stewards reviewing the use of the whips.

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